Satin Island

vanuatu-travel-diary

The reviews of Satin Island have started coming out and Tom McC’s doing the rounds and, characteristically, offering us ways to read his new novel.

Seems like the appropriate time to dive in. I’m not entirely disinterested: indeed, I’m actively interested. I’ve an essay on Tom’s work coming out in the collection Calling All Agents, edited by the quietly brilliant Dr Dennis Duncan, which will be published later this year (?) and of the writers who’ve generously blurbed my novel, Tom is the only one I’ve met. I’m also involved in an event that Tom’s curating that I don’t think I can announce yet, but which will happen before the end of the month. That will involve a more para-academic response to some of Satin Island’s themes.

So it’s safe to say I’m an enthusiast for the work. That’s a slightly double-edged sword: it can mean that one awaits a new book with trepidation, particularly when the last was a success. The reasons I enjoyed Satin Island should be evident from the below, but I want to headline it with a couple of observations. First: this is an incredibly generative novel. By creating an oil spill of the thought that informs his work – a spiral? a taffy-kneeding engine? – McCarthy creates a nexus of proliferation, prompts a super-abundance of readings. I love this. It’s surely a characteristic of great work. Second, McCarthy is a public intellectual of the kind that is very rare in this country: one who takes continental philosophy, and literature, very seriously; who navigates between the Scylla of the middlebrow and the Charybdis of pretentious, mystical bollocks with a sharp eye on the compass. Huge power to that.

A new novel by Tom McCarthy is certainly an ‘event’ round these ends, then, though not perhaps in the way its author might conceive that term.satin

The background: the publishing industry that initially ignored his debut Remainder  – now routinely referred to as a ‘cult’ book or a ‘masterpiece’ – has taken rather more notice since Zadie Smith claimed it as exemplary of one of the paths the English language novel might follow were it to turn away from ‘sentimental realism.’ The Man Booker Prize short-listing of C in 2012 was significant: it’s not that sentimental realism had been overturned, rather that the UK’s pre-eminent literary prize was willing to recognise a book that wasn’t that. There’s a film of Remainder coming out this year, directed by the visual artist Omer Fast. For those who enjoy the more conceptual or theoretically-led variant of the novel the positive reception of McCarthy’s work has been an undeniably good thing.

To recap on the novels so far: Remainder, the slow-burn/overnight breakthrough about a man who obsessively reconstructs events from a past made inaccessible to him through a neurological injury and which closes with a set-piece responding to a thought experiment sketched by Jean Baudrillard. Men in Space, based on an earlier manuscript returned to after Remainder, set primarily in Prague and Amsterdam, where McCarthy worked as an art critic in the 1990s, and concerning the forgery of a Russian icon. (Men in Space is frequently overlooked or under-rated – it might, in fact, be my favourite). C: the explicitly Modernist period book, a kind of Thomas Mann bildungsroman describing the life of Serge Carfax in four parts, the densely cryptic style of which makes it seem in retrospect more like a tribute to Joyce.

This is already a singular body of work and its interest to scholars of contemporary literature was recognised when it was made the subject of a conference at Birkbeck College, University of London, in 2012. Part of the singularity surely derives from McCarthy’s background in conceptual art. The first time a national newspaper took notice of him he apparently paid for the space: there are images of a front page ad in The Times for his fictitious avant garde art network The International Necronautical Society that seems to mimic the publication of Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto in Le Figaro in 1909. Try to find it in the Times Digital Archive and you’ll struggle: the image is a post hoc mock up. The rationale behind pretending to copy the actions of a movement that insisted upon its radical vanguardism can be found in Satin Island’s narrator’s account of his interest in parachute deaths: ‘an originally un-original event becoming even more un-original, and hence even more fascinating.’

McCarthy has maintained the INS alongside long-term collaborator, philosopher Simon Critchley, who published his own debut novel, Memory Theatre, last year. The INS is commissioned for installations and presentations at galleries around the world and the two have, on occasion, sent actors in their places. McCarthy won an inaugural 2013 Windham Campbell Literature Prize, awarded by Yale: that appears to be for real. A new novel from Tom McCarthy is certainly an event: it might not send ripples backwards and forwards through the continuum of history in the way that the ‘event’ as theorised by Alain Badiou does, but it does register with Newsnight.

Satin Island is narrated by U., a corporate anthropologist working for a company that is engaged at the bleeding edge of the contemporary. U. made his name by going native in the club culture of the 1990s. This is a very pleasing detail: there were ethnographers who did just that, recognising the tribal nature of a culture that rapidly factionalised – Jungle, Drum’n’bass, Intelligent Drum’n’bass, Techstep, Hardstep, Drill’n’bass, Droll’n’bass –  and evidenced ritualistic behaviour in its use of holy sacraments and gatherings of mass communion. It happened. It doesn’t seem real – in fact, it seems like a parody of something that might have happened, like so much that is ‘actual’ today, but it did happen; it was real; it left documents.

U. is attempting to write a report. His brief is broad: the contemporary. He follows his obsessions, like the narrator of Remainder. He researches the deaths of parachutists whose ‘chutes have failed to open (the INS researched the deaths of surfers in shark attacks). He relates anecdotes from a canonical work of French structural anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques. He has a girlfriend called Madison, with whom he has sex, a colleague called Daniel, who projects quasi-anthropological films onto the walls of his office, and a friend called Petr, who develops a cancerous growth and dies. His boss is called Peyman and he occasionally sounds like Bruno Latour, insisting that objects are ‘systems of relations’ (or maybe he sounds like Paul Rabinow, who is name-checked in the acknowledgements; or any of a number of theorists I haven’t read but perhaps you have). Peyman’s name indicates that he fulfils the magical function of making the money appear. In this sense, this is McCarthy’s second novel in the fantastic tradition, in which he magics up the narrative cash to enable his protagonists to do what they want. Vanishing pecuniary concerns like this feels both terribly mundane and entirely radical: they’d simply get in the way of the business at hand. And what is that?

Well, it’s not characterisation, if by that you assume characters who communicate to the reader the rich range of their emotions. U. doesn’t feel a lot. In fact, he doesn’t feel anything. He thinks, becomes obsessed with topics of thought, loses interest in them, and thinks some more. Events don’t really connect with him: Petr’s funeral registers only because it seems as if the presiding vicar has no idea who the deceased really was, an experience that may well be familiar to readers who’ve been to more than one funeral. This is typical of a McCarthy protagonist: C’s Serge was the same.

The things that do register are more difficult to pin down; they’re abstract but material: taffy, parachutes, growths, caoutchouc, islands of waste; lumps of matter in abstracted form. I’m tempted to think of these as ‘unforms,’ stuff that represents that which is beyond thought – we might want to route direct to the INS’s primary research area here. These forms profoundly affect U.:

‘I’d stood rooted to the pavement in front of a candy store window in which taffy was being pulled, transfixed by the contortions of the huge, unmanageable lump (what child could eat all that?) as the machine’s arms plied it, it’s endless metamorphoses in which, despite the regular, repeating movements that stretched and folded, stretched and slapped the taffy through the same shapes over and over again, I knew, even then, that no part of it, no molecule, would ever occupy the same spot in the overall formation twice.’

Stylistically there is more that recognisably coheres with the first two novels than with C, in which the author’s native style was suppressed in the service of intensely cryptic signification. There’s an attitude that I want to call punk, but is possibly more aptly post-punk: fizzing, intelligent, spiky and built on a kind of reconstructed groove. He re-animates theory making it sound dangerous and sexy again then defuses it with a throwaway ‘y’knowwaddamean?’

‘This cataclysm, [Levi-Strauss] says, is the true face of our culture – the one that’s turned away, from us at least. The order and the harmony of the West, the laboratory in which structures of untold complexity are being cooked up, demand the emission of masses of noxious by-products. What the anthropologist encounters when he ventures beyond civilization’s perimeter-fence is no more than its effluvia, its toxic fallout. The first thing we see as we travel around the world is our own filth, thrown into mankind’s face.’

The writing is sharp, funny, and while not, perhaps, as obscurely signifying as in C, makes abstract ideas readily accessible: this alone is no mean feat of authorship.

Perhaps the greatest departure from the preceding works is that the philosophers and literary theorists who so inform McCarthy’s project have now broken cover and are named and referenced in the text. Previously, while McCarthy would delight in turning to Barthes or Blanchot in his interviews and essays, and paid tribute to post-structuralist literary criticism through his reading of Herge in Tintin and the Secret of Literature, the novels have subsumed their theory. Sure, it’s there if you’re so minded to see it but you can read them perfectly happily without it. The open references to Lacan et al. in Satin Island are sure to be divisive. Broadly speaking, literary fiction publishers have tended to be somewhat squeamish about the wacky French stuff that so dominated the Eng Lit academy in the eighties and early nineties, the reading public even more so: J. G. Ballard, perhaps the British novelist who shared the most intellectual territory with the enfants terrible across the channel, put some distance between himself and Baudrillard when critics compared them (though that never quite rang true and sure enough, dig a little deeper, and you’ll find Ballard recommending Baudrillard later in his career – turns out you can’t always take these novelists at their word).

Kathy Acker and Stewart Home were plagiarising Marx and the Situationists in the early nineties but they didn’t enjoy the crossover success McCarthy has. It can feel as if there’s been something like a collective sigh of relief in literary publishing that the academy has since tended towards the New Historicism that rose in the 1990s. Now we can get back to our Ian Fleming reboots and our life-affirming tales of bien pensant liberal existence without having to ignore the elephant in the room. This is evidently a reductive account of a complex field but, for the most part, so it has gone. It will be fascinating to see how Satin Island’s theoretical swagger is received.

There are a number of superb set piece scenes that lighten the texture of Satin Island. Two stand out in my mind. In the first, U. describes an extended daydream in which he gives a rapturously received conference paper. It’s a bravura piece of comic writing – almost classical in rhetorical construction – that reminded me of Jean Phillipe Toussaint’s Television, another book about an academic struggling to write a book. Once that realisation took hold, I thought, ‘This is his Toussaint book,’ but it wasn’t long before I came to the next set piece, when Madison describes her torture at the hands of Italian police following the 2001 G8 demonstrations in Genoa. This time I thought: ‘The Atrocity Exhibition – it’s Ballard.’ At other points you might think: ‘Pynchon’ or ‘Delillo’. There’s an obvious Melville lift, plentiful direct inter-textual references to the likes of Deleuze and, indeed, the author’s own body of work (the plane that causes delays at Torino Caselle airport is behaving erratically in airspace above London, doubtlessly flying in a figure-of-eight holding pattern as at the end of Remainder). These intra-corporal references come thick and fast in the final chapter giving a sense of Satin Island as a kind of summary report of the author’s work to date.

This also prompts the broader realisation that we’re always engaged in McCarthy’s game of source spotting. Indeed, he explicitly invites us to engage in this game in the acknowledgements:

Satin Island, like all books, contains hundreds of borrowings, echoes, re-mixes and straight repetitions. To list them all would take up as much space as the text itself. The critical reader can entertain him- or herself tracking some of them down, if he or she is that way inclined.’

So what does it mean to send readers to chase down these inter-textual references? Is it a quintessentially post-modernist move, in the manner of Alasdair Gray’s ‘Index of Plagiarisms’ running as a sidebar to the Epilogue of Lanark? Are we to feel the rug pulled from under our feet, to be drawn into undeniable realisation of the material object in our hands and its relation to other such material objects? McCarthy has written recently in the London Review of Books about the relationships between the vexed convention of literary realism and various philosophical approaches to the real. He’s keenly aware of the mimetic limits of the novel form and just as interested in the limits of perception and reason when it comes to the extra-textual real. Source-spotting surely is a game but it is also an enactment of the broader concerns of the project and a model for a very contemporary relationship with texts. Back in the late sixties, if you read Cortzar or The Atrocity Exhibition, you were probably in a minority. Those of us who grew in in the ’80s with Ian Livingstone’s fighting fantasy make-your-own-adventure books had a presentiment of how things might play out, albeit still anchored in the wood-pulp-based form. We’re all hypertext readers now.

Madison’s story leaps out as what we might think of, following the master-text for this section, as a ‘module.’ She’s being instructed to strike poses for a man according to signals he appears to be receiving from some kind of oscillator. She follows commands and the operator achieves moments of transcendent aesthetic pleasure that he registers with non-sexual moans and groans and eventually sobs. He even begins to mimic her movements with his own. Madison thinks she can discern children’s voices in amongst the tones emitted by the oscillator but when the machine comes to rest she realises that the children’s voices are noises off, coming from outside the room.

McCarthy’s work is particularly focused on an informational reading of literature, informed by the post-structuralist canon but hybridised with media theory (he wrote a short obituary piece for the LRB on the death of Friedrich Kittler expressing a genuine surprise and joy that Kittler had recognised his work). Drawing on such informational thinking, in this tableau we might see Madison as the reader and the policeman as the novelist. The reader reads both signal (the sources and references drawn on by the novelist) and noise (her own field of reference) and makes sense of the resulting melange. The novelist attempts to manipulate his own signal-making machine in contract with the reader and sometimes they strike a balance of form and communion. It’s all a stylised dance, with a terrible absence at its origin – in this instance, the absence of a traumatic real that is merely suspended; an electric shock from a cattle prod. Reading this chapter, a story that might be providing a structural model of the reciprocal relationship between reader and author, you experience a rush of revelation and then you realise that your revelation is just like one you read U. experiencing some thirty pages previously. You’ve been manipulated into your eureka moment. The rush fades, just as U.’s did. It’s all bullshit. And so on. Turtles all the way down.

This is, of course, just one possible reading of the tableau. We could re-arrange it so that the structure provides something else. It’s ambiguous, a structure that invites interpretation in a text that provides too many answers: another reviewer will surely examine a different passage and yield different results. That’s the game we’re playing, the dance on which we’re being led. Break out your own moves – spasmodic, angular Ian Curtis twitches, perhaps – and you may yet see them mirrored back at you, but so will the woman over there doing spins like she’s at a Northern Soul all-nighter; and that guy lost in his classical ballet. This is reader reception theory routed through informational redundancy.

The dance alone might be interesting – it’s certainly led with great skill – but would it be enough? (There are, of course, those who don’t like dancing to any tune, but, y’know, their loss). A straight repetition of the nouveau roman or classic Pynchon would not be as interesting as McCarthy’s dictum claims and he knows it. What makes McCarthy’s work so exciting is that it does indeed push beyond the texts that it identifies as its sources. Unlike the academy, McCarthy is plunging headlong back into deconstruction with the aim of emerging on the other side – or perhaps bouncing back again. How can you acknowledge the fallibility of language, multiplicities of readings and reclaim the inauthenticity of literature within the body of literature itself?

Right at the heart of the narrative there’s a story from Tristes Tropiques about Lévi-Strauss leaving a tribe he understands too well and landing at another he can’t get any purchase on at all:

‘But maybe, just maybe, he reasons, somewhere in between two extremes – in between understanding so completely that an object’s robbed of its allure (on the one hand) and (on the other one) not understanding anything at all – there might be some “ambiguous instances” in which the balance is just right.’

This is, perhaps, Satin Island’s response: develop the ambiguity. Incorporate the stuff, the goo, the warping and wefting residue, the children’s voices: throw up so much noise surrounding the signal, set up your own feedback loops and fields of distortion. Get the balance just right and we dance together to postpone the cattle prod.

Satin Island enacts its theory. It’s cunning, it’s terrific fun and it’s very serious. I felt like one of the Vanuatans who so interest U., pioneers of bungee-jumping and productive mis-interpreters of signal and noise. I almost hit the ground but I bounced right back up, invigorated by a mediated brush with the field of the contemporary and ready to jump again.

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A RECIPE FOR ROBINSON’S SALAD

Ingredients

1 bunch seaweed

1 jellyfish

4 limpets

Foot after foot just follow your feet. Towards the tide. Grey tops collapsing onto one another. Don’t drink the water. Fire down the coast. Old power station. Plumes drifting upwind. Avoid acrid smoke. Blocks of masonry jutting from the sand, concrete cubes, some kind of military architecture, pillboxes. No one. No one for weeks. No one for years. No one. No footprints.

All gone. Just gone. Taken. Must have been taken. How else. Where else. People don’t just go. The imprint of Sarah’s head in her pillow, traces of scent around the sheets, which one, chanel, number five, slippers on the ground. Sarah gone. Taken. Taken. Forces beyond my ken.

Follow a stream trickle rivulet down to a rock pool. Plunge arm in to elbow. Pull out a handful of seaweed – some kind of bladderwrack. Bad eating but better than nothing.

Blanch the seaweed in salted water. Drain and toss with sesame oil.

Void on the radio. Dead static. Voices in there if you listen hard enough. Voices everywhere if you listen too hard. The mind makes voices. Like this one. This one.

Nothing on the telly. There’s nothing on the telly again. Darling. Nothing. Interference. No broadcasts. The mast at Elmley Moor still standing but no one at the studios. Masts one, people nil.

To the left a jellyfish. Sand plasma. Wibble wobble on a plate. Watch the sting. Scoop it with sand beneath into the bucket. Wash sand off later. Pickle it maybe.

Remove the tentacles following the instructions on page 32. Dice the body of the jellyfish. Marinade in the rice vinegar mix for at least six hours.

Limpets on the rocks. Take knife from boot holster, prise the fattest ones off. One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive. Keeps the spirits up does singing. Hah! That’s a good one. What’s the use in worrying, it never was worthwhile. WHILE!

Troubles troubles troubles. The trouble starts when it’s out your head. In here’s all fine. So pack up you troubles in your old kit bag and smile boys smile.

Boil the limpets. Chop them. Treat them like clams.

Serve with a foam made from the shellfish reduction.

I’M JACK

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“Here are dark telegrams from an expertly realised otherness that is Sunderland. Spare. Swift. Smart. And dangerous. Carrying us through maps of shame to rescue a convincing fiction of the past from its sullen entropy.”

Iain Sinclair

“Less a novel and more an assault on the senses, I’m Jack cleverly uses inter-textual trickery and deft Mackem parlance to create a portrait of a man obsessed. It is a forensic montage, a frenzied confessional and a stark commentary on the effects of public notoriety. I’m Jack is a story as pathetic as it moving, as haunted as it is necessary. It takes the true crime novel into an exciting new direction.”

Benjamin Myers, author of Pig Iron and Beastings

I’m Jack is an absorbing and fascinating read. Using multi-layered storytelling, a deep personal knowledge of Sunderland past, present and legend in a believable and hard-hitting blend of fact and imagination, it paints a genuinely disturbing vision of an obsessive, calculating and ultimately self-destructive personality.”

Bryan Talbot, author of Alice in Sunderland and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

I’m Jack is compelling, troubling, fascinating, a delight to read.  It is a sublime anti-novel and a brilliantly original intervention into a most peculiar episode of recent history.”

James Miller, author of Lost Boys and Sunshine State

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Why I Want to Eat David Cameron

(with apologies to JGB)

Ion Chromatography has revealed that the face of David Cameron is rich in umami.

The ears of David Cameron are deliciously crispy when deep-fried and served with flaked sea-salt.

The cheeks of David Cameron will reward patient slow-cooking in their own unguent juices.

David Cameron has been raised on a diet of milk and acorns and his flanks have been daily massaged in craft beer. His limbs should be hung for at least forty days before being prepared for the table. The flesh of David Cameron will be marbled with fat and contains a unique enzyme that encourages the production of red blood cells.

The belly of David Cameron should be brined for at least five days and soaked in clean water for a further day before being braised in red wine with a bouquet garni.

Ask your butcher to joint the lower legs of David Cameron across the bone to produce four steaks. These osso bucci will yield a delicious marrow, which you can suck free from its casing. Serve with risotto Milanese and gremolata.

The liver of David Cameron has been tenderised by overfeeding. It should be poached in milk and made into a pate. Serve with a red onion marmalade and toasted brioche.

The kidneys of David Cameron are best devilled and served with a glass of black velvet as a luxurious breakfast.

The lights of David Cameron should be discarded.

The sweat-breads of David Cameron should be bread-crumbed and deep-fried.

The chitterlings of David Cameron should be marinaded in a secret mix of ‘erbs and spices.

David Cameron has no trout or snotters. He is not a pig.

The penis of David Cameron is considered a counter-aphrodisiac by the Chinese.

The testicles of David Cameron are known as Home Counties Oysters.

The brains of David Cameron have a creamy texture compared by some to that of scrambled eggs.

The heart of David Cameron will be desiccated. Care will need to be taken to remove the assorted growths and tumours that will have contributed to its long-term blackening. Typical slow-cooking techniques will likely be insufficient to make it palatable. Outlandish culinary experiments in mummification using preservatives and emulsions derived from ancient Egyptian models suggest that it may yet be possible to consider this part of the animal for the table although this course of action is not endorsed by the author.

GC-Olfactometry testing shows that the blood of David Cameron has base notes of naphtha and leather. It can be combined with oats and spices to make an unusually piquant black pudding.

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A Defaced Jar Chrism

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While the music of the Aphex Twin tells a story about the growth of the digital, the morphology of the face of Richard D James illustrates the parallel expansion of the digital into the visual arena. I Care Because You Do was the first release to use James’s face in its accompanying artwork: a lurid and sinister self-portrait, created in photoshop. Titles on the sleeve were also hand-written and a number of track titles were anagrams of Richard D James, Aphex Twin or Caustic Window. This use of autobiographics was, I think, an arch response to the general sense that electronic music was dominated, to use the argot of the time, by faceless techno bollocks. Well, here’s a face.

The fact that James was disinterested in engaging with the media leant this move a particular edge: the reclusive, or masked, counter-cultural artist stance has been parlayed many times since in various fields with varying degrees of success – Burial, Deadmau5, Banksy – and had precursors – The Residents, Underground Resistance. I think it’s fair to say that the reasons behind James’s media-avoidance were often misread and misrepresented but that, as many copyists recognised, it nevertheless proved to be effective in piquing public interest, particularly coupled with this apparently candidly autobiographical visual signature. What was distinct about Aphex is that he seemed to have decided to let the image of his face do all the media work.

The self-portrait was the seed. The video for Donkey Rhubarb took the image of James’s face and ran with it: or rather, plastered it over the faces of hip-thrusting, giant teddy-bears, and ground with it. A lurid and grotesque scenario, designed for the fried brains of ravers used to watching childrens’ TV while coming down. Reader, I was that raver.

The cover of the Donkey Rhubarb EP used a section of the face, repeated. James’s face was multiplying already, being emptied of its meaning content by repetition and reduplication. In a sense it was already reaching towards the digital – cut, copy and paste, batch process as aesthetic– as the music was doing the same, breakbeats sped and twisted out of danceable shape

The lurid nature of the self-portrait was the key, though, and Warp ran with it for the Richard D James album. Here, a cleverly lit photographic portrait fixed James’s face in the real but exaggerated certain features: the corners of the grin were raised – I’d guess this was done using the goo tool in photoshop? The lines on the face were exaggerated, perhaps using make-up. This is primarily an analogue face, but it has been digitally touched up.

Aphextwin come to daddy from M-Well on Vimeo.

The next step barely needs repeating: enter Chris Cunningham, Come to Daddy, MTV, and legions of US fans. James’s face has now been distorted, rendered in mask-form in 3-dimensions and placed on the faces of children. While James’s music was now using digital tools to perform incredible feats – listen to b-side Bucephalus Bouncing Ball for my fave from this period – Cunningham’s effects were still largely the analogue effects of the prop maker – no surprise that the TV screen acts as a womb, that old analogue medium birthing the king-mutant. Grotesquerie is the key here, the distorted, exaggerated face, the hybrid of child and adult, the long-limbed, underfed, Rich mutant: that flicker between horror and humour, the weirdness, rather than the cuteness, of the animated Dancing Baby run riot. While this riffs on Daily Mail fears of gangs of feral youths, it carries forward the raucously carnivalesque aspect of the Donkey Rhubarb short: the social order is disturbed. Once again it plays to the rave, to techno’s outlaw status, splicing it with a gothic body horror.

Aphextwin windowlicker from M-Well on Vimeo.

Windowlicker is a crunch moment. Digital grotesquerie unparalleled. Absolutely perfect photoshop work on the record cover – there is no way that the Aphex-porn woman hybrid isn’t a real thing, and indeed, each part of her was perfectly real – and the distorted visage of Rick now transmissible like a virus: from the Gene Kelly, pied piper pimp, to his bikini-clad dancers and finally the gurning, ponytailed, nightmare babe. Windowlicker obviously parodies the most misogynist excesses of hip-hop culture, but the proliferation of James’s face, its continual morphing into yet more distorted, chimeric forms, parodies mainstream culture’s obsession with image over content, superficial beauty over substance – emptying the image of any meaning and using it as endlessly malleable form.

That James’s face had become a virus was further emphasised when it was discovered after the event that it had been spectrographically inserted into the music of Windowlicker. Even the tune was structurally infected by the face. And so it has continued. Fans have made their own James masks. Various distorted versions of the face are mapped onto the faces of ravers at parties where he plays – in the digital realm of Aphex visuals, produced by Weirdcore, we’re all susceptible to the virus. The face is trying to escape its own aesthetic confines; the face has gone digitally feral.

afx seaside specials from Bloc. on Vimeo.

All of which makes the latest image for Syro an intriguing addition to the canon. I guess we could read it as reflecting James’s absence from commercial release since the Analord series – no faces accompanied that – the ten year hiatus visually represented as cuts, or folds. It achieves the now-familiar grotesquerie with a jaunty analogue technique – simple excisions – but it made its way into the world through the deepnet, the realm of the digital outlaw. Digital tools are now so broadly dispersed and embedded in our lives that their use is pretty much assumed – even analogue techniques will be achieved using digital tools. The digital is now most significant as a structural distribution network and so Syro first emerges through such a network. But the face is still there, shifting, mutating and doing some of the media.

I can’t wait for Syro. The first track available, minipops 67, is incredible – so many melodic elements, so much totally ideosyncratic electronic funk, it could only have been produced by Aphex, as will become abundantly clear if you listen to the vanity-tronica tracks uploaded to youtube and passed off as Aphex before the stream was released. This sounds new, in the way that was not supposed to be possible anymore. A most welcome return round these parts.

14/11/2014

ADDENDUM

This was going to be a link to an epic two-part Aphex interview posted at David Burraston’s noyzelab site last week but it’s since been taken down. Of relevance to the above bit of scribbling was explanation from Aphex of the Syro image – specifically, that it was intended to capture the mood of a microdot trip. It’s been a while but I remember microdot trips as being quite chilly and spare when compared to the relative warmth of a Strawberry or a Sonic, say, and they were renowned for their long-haul duration. It was never wise to inspect your own features under lysergic reorganisation: the folded-in effect is plausible.

Also of interest in the interview, which was primarily about gear, were sporadic outbursts of 9/11 truthism. I suppose it’s possible that Rich has gone down the wormhole – and certainly, twitter and “mainstream media” (nudge nudge wink wink) are buying this version – but as an alert (paranoid) Aphex follower I prefer to think of these claims as deliberately misleading truth-bait continuous with the career-long media policy of making shit up. They had something of the ring of a posteriori insertions to them, and the disappearance of the noyzelab interview – surely someone, somewhere has that cached, right? – makes it all seem like a bad dream.

Don DeLillo: The Word, The Image, and The Gun

A 1991 Omnibus documentary that I’ve finally got round to watching and wanted to post a.s.a.p. I read Libra about ten years ago but have only recently got the bug for the rest. It’s good to hear Delillo spell it out.

“Isolation, solitude, secret plotting. A novel is a secret a writer may keep for years before he lets it out of his room. Writers in hiding, writers in prison. Sometimes their secrets turn out to be dangerous to the state machine. For most writers in the West of course this danger is extremely remote. The cells we live in are strictly personal constructions.”
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HD and utilitarianism

In a bid to be more active here I’m going to start posting quotations. I’m getting up to my elbows in Modernism, and this from H.D. is worth sharing for its anger at the degraded status of the poet. Paydirt in the last two lines of this section.

So we reveal our status
with twin-horns, disk, erect serpent,

though these or the double-plume or lotus
are, you now tell us, trivial

intellectual adornment;
poets are useless,

more than that,
we, authentic relic,

bearers of secret wisdom,
living remnant

of the inner band
of the sanctuaries’ initiate,

are not only ‘non-utilitarian’,
we are ‘pathetic’:

this is the new heresy;
but if you do not even understand what words say,

how can you expect to pass judgment
on what words conceal?

H.D., The Walls do Not Fall, p.14 of Trilogy (Carcanet Press: Cheadle, 1973)

 

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I’m Jack

 

Harland Miller, The Consquence of a Failed Illusion (West Yorkshire Police Public Information Campaign), 2009

Harland Miller, The Consquence of a Failed Illusion (West Yorkshire Police Public Information Campaign), 2009

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